The day after 100,000 marched through the capital protesting against the ethnic cleansing conducted in Gaza, the borough’s Muslim communities staged public meetings to raise their concerns over the situation in the Middle East and rising levels of Islamophobia in south London
A contrast in different approaches by Croydon politicians to reaching out to the borough’s Muslims who have been deeply distressed by the conflict in the Middle East was evident at a packed Purley Mosque yesterday afternoon.
More than 200 people were at the meeting, organised by the Croydon Federation of Mosques and held at Purley Mosque.
Croydon South MP Chris Philp and Rick Howard, a Liberal Democrat election candidate in the past, were there to listen to some harrowing stories from Croydon Muslims, many of whom have families trapped in Gaza.
In a series of speeches, South Croydon residents told of the horrors being inflicted on Gaza, with accounts of relatives among the many thousands of deaths of Palestinians, so many of them children.
People also condemned Hamas’s brutal terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7.
It was pointed out that there is already a humanitarian crisis in Gaza which could turn into a catastrophe.
The speakers referred to the history of 75 years of repression of the Palestinians and occupation of their land. They accused Israel of being involved in war crimes, in which the UK Government was complicit. They all called for a ceasefire, the stepping up of humanitarian aid and talks aimed at a political solution.
Philp began by saying, “I’ve come here to listen. I will convey what I’ve heard here back to Government.” Which earned him a strong round of applause, although Philp’s gesture may prove pretty meaningless unless it changes the Government’s position. The UK’s representative to the United Nations refused to back a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
A quick snap of himself with James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, was shared with the mosques today. What had been discussed at the Masjid, Philp said, “has been understood, especially about civilians in Gaza”.
At yesterday’s meeting, Philp said: “Parties need to abide by international law – I agree with that. Humanitarian aid must get in. The crossing needs to be opened. Aid needs to get in. People who need to get out should be able to get out.
“There’s a need for a two-state solution. Palestine needs and deserves its own state, sovereign, recognised and secure.
“I’m concerned about islamophobia and antisemitism in this country. I will always stand up against hate crime.
“I’m always ready to help the Purley Mosque. If you need help with planning permissions and such like just let me know.”
Philp won some respect from the audience just for attending. He said it is “my job in elected office to come to listen in person” to such grave concerns and worries.
Philp said, “In Parliament Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak said pretty much the same thing” regarding Israel and Palestine.
Also among the concerns raised with the Conservative Government’s policing minister was the sharp increase in Islamophobic abuse, vandalism and attacks, particularly over the past fortnight. Some of the borough’s Islamic leaders are concerned that this may continue as racist hate is whipped up by some dog-whistle politicians against the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, including over issues such as ULEZ, an issue with which Philp ought to be very familiar.
After about an hour, the MP said he would have to go, as he likes to spend most of Sundays with his family. Probably much like the thousands of families in Gaza would like to be able to do…
Philp’s speech was “clever and quite cunning”, according to one audience member.
“He said some things which were designed to appeal to the audience, while at the same time not diverting in any marked way from Government policy. On the face of it he was successful, as he received some applause.
“But his line about taking a message back to the Government is meaningless if the Government ignores it and just carries on as before, as I fear they will.”
There had been another event planned to be held over the weekend at Thornton Heath Mosque, but this did not go ahead because neither of Croydon’s Labour MPs – Steve Reed and Sarah Jones – were available.
Reed’s office told the Croydon Federation of Mosques that he would instead be contacting all the mosques in his Croydon North constituency directly.
Reed wrote that, “Israel’s reaction must be proportionate, within the boundaries of international law” and that “we want humanitarian aid and the availability of water, food, fuel and medicine for Palestinians in Gaza to continue”. Reed said he would visit individual mosques, if asked.
Reed drew a strong response from the leader of a mosque in his current constituency, who said, “Mr Reed will be aware that by the Labour leader and some members of the shadow cabinet advocating, or at least intimating, Israel’s right to withhold water, fuel and electricity from the people of Gaza, [which is] a form of collective punishment or war crime, Labour has sent a message to Muslims that our concerns have no value for the leadership.
“We no longer feel the safety and confidence in Labour that we have enjoyed for many years, and have come to realise that our votes are taken for granted.
“Mosques in Croydon have come together and will be encouraging their congregations to vote together as a block and decisively for the party willing to meet our reasonable expectations.”
Muslim communities accounted for 10.4% of the Croydon population according to the 2021 Census.
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